Tech Multimillionaire Robert Pera Reaches Deal to Buy Memphis Grizzlies

By Andy Meek , written on June 11, 2012

From The News Desk

Robert Pera, a 34-year-old former Apple engineer and the founder and CEO of Ubiquiti Networks, will soon be adding a new title to his resume: NBA team owner.

The communications technology magnate – who’s worth nearly $1 billion, according to Forbes – has reached a deal with Chicago billionaire Michael Heisley to buy the Memphis Grizzlies, Heisley confirmed late Monday.

At this point, it’s still only a tentative deal. Even though Heisley said Pera has made “a deposit on the contract,” the contract still has to be approved by the NBA board of governors, in addition to getting antitrust clearance and meeting other conditions.

“It won’t be done for 60 days or so,” Heisley said by phone from South Carolina, where he admitted to being slightly away from the center of the action on a day when his lawyer back in Chicago was involved in finalizing the deal. Heisley, who bought the NBA team in 2000 when it was still in Vancouver, Canada, even half-joked that he was relying on a barrage of calls from reporters to keep him up-to-date Monday.

Regardless, it’s a major milestone for the Memphis team, which since moving to Memphis in 2001 has participated in the NBA playoffs for five seasons, including the two most successful campaigns in franchise history, in 2010-2011 and in 2011-2012.

Pera released a statement hinting about the team remaining in Memphis for now. That’s not surprising, given that the team’s contract surrounding its home arena in Memphis, FedExForum, requires it to remain in Memphis for several more years or pay a stiff penalty that essentially amounts to the local government portion of the debt service on the bonds issued to finance the arena.

“I am excited about the opportunity to build on the work that has made the Memphis Grizzlies a highly competitive NBA team,” Pera said. “I look forward to getting to know the Memphis community and to continuing the team’s success in Memphis.”

Pera’s Ubiquiti Networks is a publicly traded next-generation communications technology company. Pera, who lives in California, left Apple in 2005 to start Ubiquiti, and he became a billionaire when the company went public late last year. “Apple’s a great company, but I realized I wanted to have more success faster,” Pera told Forbes recently.

His wealth slipped below the $1 billion mark last week because of the value of shares of Ubiquiti taking a tumble. The company’s products include wifi amplification systems that provide Internet access to as few as 10 people or more than 10,000 customers within a 36-mile radius, according to Forbes.

“In Robert, we have a new owner who has expressed a total commitment to build on our success in Memphis,” Heisley said.